Cities at Risk: Building Institutional Capacity for Adaptation to Climate Change in the Cities of Asia and the Pacific

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The East-West Center and collaborators have recently published a training manual to help urban governments adapt to climate change

Between 2010 and 2030, the global urban population is expected to double—from 3.7 billion to more than 7 billion. Most of this urban population will be living in slum areas of cities in the developing world, particularly in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, where they will be vulnerable to disasters related to climate change.

Cities are particularly vulnerable to climate-change impacts because many of the world’s largest cities are located in low-lying coastal areas or along major rivers or other vulnerable sites. Yet most of these cities are not prepared for the impacts of climate change. They have not yet incorporated climate-change adaptation and resilience measures into their annual planning and budgeting processes or into their longer-term capital-improvements budgets. And the costs of climate-induced disasters are climbing rapidly, taking an increasing toll on human life, assets, and livelihoods as well as on valuable ecological systems.

National and international bodies are increasingly focused on mitigation—limiting the causes of climate-change impact. No matter how successful mitigation efforts are, however, there will still be significant impacts associated with climate change due to the greenhouse gases that are already in the atmosphere. Adaptation strategies and interventions—aimed at dealing with the impacts of climate change—are generally most appropriately implemented at the local, municipal, or regional level. Yet while urban planners must play a leading role in developing and implementing adaptation strategies, this subject has not historically been part of their training.

Beginning with an inaugural conference that took place in Bangkok in 2009, the East-West Center has been involved in a project to help planners and policymakers develop climate change adaptation and resilience policies at the municipal and regional level and mainstream these policies into the existing mechanisms of government. Research and training activities have been conducted in Thailand and Taiwan. More recently, specialists and collaborators developed a five-day urban climate adaptation course that was tested and refined during 2015–2016 in workshops held in Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Singapore. Specific modules or the entire course have been delivered to participants from more than 30 municipalities and regions in 11 countries—Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam.

This course is designed to build adaptive capacity and resilience to the impacts of climate change in urban areas of Southeast Asia, South Asia, and the Pacific. It is specifically targeted at second- and third-tier cities across these regions, but the material can be customized for other contexts. The course is geared toward both government and nongovernment stakeholders. The primary objectives are to:

  • Introduce a systems perspective for thinking about the impacts of climate change on cities
  • Increase general knowledge of global warming and climate change
  • Provide a foundation for understanding direct and indirect impacts of climate change that are locally specific
  • Provide a framework for conducting vulnerability assessments at different scales, ranging from neighborhoods to municipalities
  • Enable participants to generate a portfolio of strategies to systematically address identified vulnerabilities
  • Provide tools and techniques to establish priorities and evaluative criteria to choose among resilience and adaptation options
  • Present a general overview of the process of writing proposals for external grants and loans to finance the implementation of resilience options
  • Provide an overview of financing options, including locally generated revenue, private-sector support, and national and international grants and loans

Support for this work was provided through the Adapt Asia-Pacific Project of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The full course manual is available at the Adapt Asia website.

Lead scholars

Kem Lowry, Adjunct Senior Fellow, East-West Center
Roland Fuchs, Adjunct Senior Fellow, East-West Center
Keith Bettinger, Team Leader for Capacity Building, USAID Adapt Asia-Pacific

Related publications

Lowry, Kem, Roland Fuchs, and Keith Bettinger (2015). Urban climate change adaptation and resilience—A training manual. Honolulu: AECOM, East-West Center, and Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES).

Fuchs, Roland, Mary Conran, and Elizabeth Louis (2011). Climate change and Asia’s coastal urban cities: Can they meet the challenge? Environment and Urbanization Asia 2(1): 13–28.

Fuchs, Roland (2010). Cities at risk: Asia's coastal cities in an age of climate change. AsiaPacific Issues no. 96. Honolulu: East-West Center.

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